Since a few years, I have worked with women living with or having had surgery and treatments for breast cancer. I certified as a Pink Ribbon Pilates ‘Breast Cancer Exercise Specialist’ under progam founder Doreen Puglisi (USA) in 2015 to provide rehab classes for women affected and have used the knowledge since, while furthering it with women’s health physiotherapists and women’s wellbeing training.
While the Pink Ribbon Program is great for women who still have very limited range of motion, I have come across many more women whose movements are much better than anticipated (also in comparison with other populations I teach), but who struggle with restricted breathing, generally getting used to their own body again after surgery and staying in the ‘get it over with’ mode even after successful treatment (one would expect this after any stressful medical treatment period!). As one client put it ‘I just have screamed at my body for years now and it feels nice to just approach it differently.’
I have developed an empowering process of using Somatic Movement Education to increase breathing capacity, stress management, mobility and more accurate self-sensing specific to breast cancer surgery, to avoid compensatory movement patterns which can lead to more unnecessary discomfort and pain (like sciatica, which then restricts walking, which then has a negative impact on lymphatic drainage due to decreased muscle activity…. a preventable domino effect when you know some gentle Somatic Movements). It fits in well with physiotherapy, Manual Lymphatic Drainage and medical recommendations about movement and activity. Because I am not a medical professional, my position allows me to look at secondary issues to the cancer treatment, the things that provide a more comfortable basis for dealing with the reality of an intensive treatment period.
The language around breast cancer with war analogies contributes to a sense of ‘the body as a battlefield’ where fights are won or lost, like some map that needs new borders and different boundaries. Women have a strict treatment schedule, and I saw how the very short appointment notices in radiation departments are frustrating and rob the patients of any sense of agency, even outside the schedule, as there is no possibility to plan around them.
The large amount of patients might make that necessary (Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Ireland, after skin cancer. Every year, around 2,600 women are diagnosed, which equals to about 1 in 10 women who will get breast cancer at some stage in their lives), the understaffing in hospitals surely contributes to the stress of being seen as just another patient.
The marketing around breast cancer awareness ranging from pink haybales, women in pink combat gear, pink pens, pink hair, gala dinners…. is often times less than sensible.
What I can offer is time to focus on sensing and being. Noticing everything that moves well, improving what doesn’t move as well yet and staying connected to yourself.
The language I use is non-judgemental and we rather explore how this ‘new body’ functions right now and what can be useful to be comfortable and own the experience of fully inhabiting yourself. It’s a collaborative process, not another treatment. It’s agency in movement and even after treatment, can give a sense of closure and new beginning.
I invite you into a space where you can move freely, joyfully and empowered to contribute to your healing in a gentle and sustainable way.
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